Improving LGBTQ Healthcare:
THIS MONTH, STONEWALL Columbus will host a week dedicated to LGBTQ Health and Wellness. In addition, Columbus Public Health has recently started a group called the Columbus LGBTQ Health Coalition. It is clear that Columbus is beginning to stress the importance of our community making our health a priority. The city is recognizing that LGBTQ people have unique health concerns, there are disparities in care and action is necessary. While the overarching message is about disparities in access to care and a lack of cultural competency among providers, I’m concerned more by the unique health concerns and specific threats that target our community.
At the end of the day, what makes LGBTQ people different is sex. We are as diverse a population as any, but it is a sexual identity that is contingent on your genitalia and what you do with it. That is why most of our unique health concerns are related of sexual health. As I have said many times in this column, HIV/AIDS is a health crisis and it disproportionately affects young men who have sex with men. It has been, arguably, our most pressing health issue since its discovery in 1981. However, it is not the only sexually transmitted infection that should be on our radar.
Known affectionately as “the great imitator” because of its atypical signs and symptoms, syphilis rates have been continually rising in gay and bisexual men for the last 20 years. The Centers for Disease Control’s 2011 STD Surveillance Report reveals that in the United States “primary and secondary syphilis rates are increasing among gay and bisexual men, who now account for more than 70 percent of all infections” and adds that “the highest rates (are) being found in men 20-29 years old.”
While treatment is easy and effective, left untreated the disease can have serious effects and increase the risk of acquiring HIV. Gail Bolan, M.D., director of STD Prevention at the CDC, estimates a “two-to-five-fold increased risk of acquiring HIV if exposed to that infection when syphilis is present.”
So, a disease that was nearly eradicated with the advent and increased availability of penicillin in the 1940s is now having a comeback in men who have sex with men and exacerbating the worst health crisis in history among gay and bisexual men.
While our city undergoes a renaissance of its approach to LGBTQ health, we need our community members to change with us. It is no longer good enough to get an HIV test once a year. The behavior that continues to put our community at risk must change. Talk with your sexual partners about STI’s and testing. Take ownership of your own health by practicing safer sex and getting tested for HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis AT LEAST once a year. Getting tested is the only way to know if you are infected with any of these; most can be cured and all can be treated.
Stonewall Columbus’ LGBTQ Health & Wellness 2014
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